Inspirations from #ABATECHSHOW 2014

Now that I’ve had a few days to process the TECHSHOW experience, I’ve come up with a few ideas that I hope to implement quickly.

  • Using Viivo and Dropbox more to facilitate document sharing with clients and opposing counsel.
  • I need to go through my Facebook “likes” to de-like law firms. Since I’m a mediator, I don’t want to be seen as favoring one firm over another. It seems like a minor thing, but Bob Ambrogi is right. No need to look like I’m biased toward some attorneys and firms.
  • I need to make better use of TextExpander for document automation.
  • God help me, I’m migrating to Microsoft Word. While I love Pages (the older version—before Apple “updated” it last year), in the law office environment it’s easier to deal with Word from the start rather than the Pages-to-Word conversion. With Office now available for the iPad, it’s the right move for me. (We’ll see how I feel about this move after a few months.)
  • I’m going to give MyCase a trial for a month.

Short reflections on #ABATECHSHOW 2014

What’s the difference between drinking from a firehose and attending ABA TECHSHOW?

At TECHSHOW, you won’t get soaked with water.

Last week I attended my second TECHSHOW. Here are my general thoughts.

  • Overall, the presentations were very good to excellent. In many instances, I found that the presentations weren’t necessarily teaching me anything new, but for those who are not as far along on the learning curve, the sessions were a great resource.
  • The Expo floor was stuffed with all sorts of vendors with products that could be very helpful to lawyers. I didn’t see a lot there that was new to me, but it was good to talk to the folks at MyCase and Viivo. I would have chatted with the folks at Lit Software, but they were constantly swamped.
  • I probably should have been more outgoing and said hello to people I know of via this wonderful thing called the Internet. My inherently introverted nature struck again.
  • If I can make it next year, I will need to hit some of the social gatherings like Beer With Bloggers or the Law and Disorder Party. This year I traveled with my family, so I skipped the social events in order to dine with them and have some fun. It’s one hell of a trade off either way.
  • Harold’s Chicken Shack has the best fried chicken north of Atlanta.
  • Right next door, Warehouse Liquors is a great resource in a gorgeous environment. Thanks to Richard Ferguson for cluing me in.
  • One of the best sessions for me was run by Tom Mighell on how to become a Law Practice Division author. For years now I’ve felt that there is a book author in me working to get out. This brief session might lead to something…who knows?
  • Every jurisdiction needs more judges with the humor and passion of Herbert B. Dixon, Jr. I think I’d subscribe to Judges’ Journal just to read his columns.
  • My social media feeds will become even more unmanageable as I add new people to them.

If I have one substantive critical comment, it would be about the iOS app for the conference. The app requires an active Internet connection to get most stuff, it seems, and with the flaky and inconsistent Internet service in the hotel room, it was a bit annoying. Also, it would be nice to be able to save the downloaded PDF files into another app like PDF Expert without having to jump through hoops. Emailing myself a link, opening the link on a desktop or laptop machine, and then saving to Dropbox is no way to go. :-)


Will you be at TechShow 2014?

The ABA’s annual TechShow kicks off next Thursday, March 27. The name of the event is slightly misleading since it is much more than merely a show. The exhibitors are there in force, naturally, but what makes TechShow rock is the great presentations from experts. I consider myself to be reasonably savvy when it comes to using technology in the practice of law. Nevertheless, I learned a lot of things last year, and I can’t wait to learn more this year.

I’ll be traveling with my family, so I won’t be attending any of the post-5:00 events. Still, if you’re a reader, please say hello if you spot me. It would be good to meet you and find out what you learned during the event. Just look for William Wilson on the event badge. :-)

[Edited to add:] Many thanks to LegalTypist for organizing gazillions of TechShow SuperPasses and letting me save a bundle on the cost of the conference.

Up-skirting legal in Massachusetts?

There’s been a great deal of criticism this week as the Massachusetts high court ruled that a defendant accused of taking up-skirt photos on a subway did not commit a criminal offense. This case presents a great opportunity to offer non-lawyer readers a brief lesson and to remind lawyer readers that we have an obligation to educate the public on how the law works.

The first thing to understand about this case is that the court wrote a nine-page opinion, but the news media has to report on it in thirty seconds or less. Thus, certain details get left out. In the law, details are often important.

If you read the opinion (here it is at Scribd), you’ll quickly see that the court had to look at the criminal statute and see if the defendant’s conduct met the definition of the offense. In this particular case, the statute made it a crime to secretly photograph someone who was “nude or partially nude” in a location where there was a reasonable expectation of privacy. Here’s the language from the statute itself:

“willfully photographs, videotapes or electronically surveils another person who is
 nude or partially nude”
The statute also defines the term partially nude:
Section 105 (a) defines “[p]artially nude” as “the exposure of the human genitals, buttocks, pubic area or female breast below a point immediately above the top of the areola.”
In this case, the defendant was able to record on video the crotch area of the woman (who was an undercover officer) but not her genitals, buttocks, or pubic area. In other words, had the woman been wearing no underwear, the defendant would have been committing the offense defined by statute. But, since the woman in this case was wearing underwear, there was no exposure of the genitals, buttocks, or pubic area. Part of the ruling also had to address what “expose” means in this context, and it concluded that to expose one’s genitals, buttocks or pubic area, someone would have to be able to see the flesh, not a covered or blocked view.
If it seems like the court is being overly technical, it is. But that’s what criminal laws require. Criminal laws are defined by statutes so that a person can know what is or is not permitted. If the definition of the crime is vague, then it might dissuade someone from committing an act that is legal but “close to the line.” For criminal laws to be fair, they need to define the prohibited conduct precisely. Anything less allows the very powerful government to exercise discretion: “This guy who did X didn’t break the law, but this guy who also did X did break the law. Why the difference? We don’t like the second guy.” No one wants to live in a country or state where a vague criminal statute could be used against you just because the prosecutor is mad that you supported his opponent.
It’s worth noting here that the Massachusetts legislature quickly responded to the state high court’s ruling by amending the statute in question to include the acts committed by this defendant. Because the law prohibits ex post facto application of new criminal laws to past acts, this particular Peeping Tom can’t be prosecuted for what he did. But if he is dumb enough to do it again, he will be subject to prosecution.
The lesson to take away from all of this is that the criminal laws have to be very precisely defined by statutes. Just because someone does something that we find offensive or that we think should be criminal doesn’t mean a crime was committed. It’s only if the act meets the definition of a crime that a crime was committed. And that’s the way it should be, even if we sometimes don’t like the fact someone gets away with being slimy.

Why are passwords so hard for lawyers?

That’s the question Tom Mighell poses in his latest blog post.

I haven’t given as many presentations as Tom about the need for good password practices, but I have seen the same reaction from many lawyers: “Here we go again. This is silly, no one is going to hack me. I don’t have anything worth hacking.” After the presentation, the lawyers go back to their offices and don’t change a single thing they are doing.

Such a cavalier attitude—”I’ve got nothing worth hacking” can lead to big headaches. Here’s a summary of what happened to just one unfortunate guy who did use good password practices.

This summer, hackers destroyed my entire digital life in the span of an hour. My Apple, Twitter, and Gmail passwords were all robust—seven, 10, and 19 characters, respectively, all alphanumeric, some with symbols thrown in as well—but the three accounts were linked, so once the hackers had conned their way into one, they had them all…. [T]hey used my Apple account to wipe every one of my devices, my iPhone and iPad and MacBook, deleting all my messages and documents and every picture I’d ever taken of my 18-month-old daughter.

If this is what can happen to someone using good passwords, what do you think can happen to you when you use crappy passwords?

If the threat of losing irreplaceable photos of your family isn’t enough to frighten you into good password practices, then how about a potential malpractice suit? I haven’t researched it, but I bet it isn’t too hard for a judge or jury to conclude that a lawyer is negligent for using an easily hackable password that leads to disclosures harmful to a client’s financial interests.

I don’t know about you, but I would not want to be the defendant in a test case like that.

Yes, good password practices can be a pain. So is locking your doors and setting an alarm. But you do it because you want to protect the things behind those doors. Passwords are your keys and alarm systems. If you use crummy ones, you’ll regret it. There are plenty of tools available (like this one or this one) to help you create and manage secure passwords. If you aren’t using one of them, you’re begging for trouble.

If you think it’s still too much trouble, good luck using that excuse with your malpractice carrier or your bar’s disciplinary authority.